SPECIAL REPORT: Trucker strike continues - latest action seen in Savannah

| 6/30/2004

Strikes continued at the nation’s ports June 30 as hundreds of independent truckers protested rising fuel costs, anti-union laws, unfair wages and inadequate surcharges to offset the cost of fuel.

The latest activity was reported at the Port of Savannah, where about a dozen people stood outside the port’s entrance in protest. Truck traffic was down about 15 percent from last Monday, port officials told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Savannah Cartage Inc. has relied only on its company drivers the past two days, because the independent drivers they contract with haven't reported for work, according to WTOC-TV in Savannah.

"We're very concerned about it," the company's Kurt Hutchinson told the station. "I'm sure a lot of the other companies are too, big or small. It's going to have an impact as each day progresses."

Meanwhile, sources told Land Line there is speculation that some carriers are offering incentives to get a few drivers to work. But, overall there more truckers shut down on June 30 than there were on June 29.

For example, the port of Charleston, SC, reported slower-than-normal traffic. About 50 demonstrators carried placards and signs outside port terminals there.

In the meantime, independent truckers, who get paid by the load, have called for the strike to continue through the July Fourth holiday weekend. About 200 independent truckers demonstrated Monday at Port Newark, which is outside New York City and one of the busiest U.S. container ports. Officials also reported trucker protests at ports in Boston, New Orleans and Miami.

Owner-operators are considered independent businesspeople and are forbidden by federal price-fixing laws from negotiating or banding together to talk with employers.

"The only bargaining leverage that these guys have is to withhold services or to threaten to withhold services," said Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Missouri-based Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which has more than 111,000 members.

Talk about a strike has been rumored for more than two months. This latest action stems from protests that began in early May in Los Angeles and spread to other ports in Virginia and Oakland,

Meanwhile, OOIDA is using its lobbying muscle to push for meaningful surcharge legislation. The association believes that with today’s high fuel prices, every shipper should be paying a fuel surcharge adequate to cover costs.

"For any middleman to pocket all or part of the surcharge is a fraud on the shipper and truck owner that should be punishable by law," Spencer said.

OOIDA has asked lawmakers in Washington, DC, to pass fuel surcharge legislation that will provide a permanent fix to this problem. While some legislators may still be hesitant to offer a legislative fix, OOIDA says, the choice to ignore high fuel prices that bankrupt truckers comes with perils for more than just small-business truckers.

"The entire economic recovery for the nation may well be set back or stalled," Spencer said. "Port drivers have been among the most abused in years. Steamship lines and railroads have taken full advantage of their bargaining position to beat these guys down bad. It's not surprising they are angry. And, it's shameful the only way their legitimate concerns will be addressed is when they threaten drastic action."